OKLAHOMA CITY —Even without their defensive standout, the Atlanta Hawks still kept their perfect record intact.
Joe Johnson scored 25 points and Atlanta came from behind after a late Oklahoma City run to beat the Thunder 89-85 Sunday night and move to 5-0 on the season.
The Hawks, who’ve developed one of the NBA’s top defenses early this season, played for the first time without defensive-minded forward Josh Smith, but stopped the Thunder cold in the fourth quarter to grind out the victory.
Flip Murray keyed the Hawks’ comeback by scoring the first nine points in a 12-2 run, and Atlanta held Oklahoma City without a field goal for a 5-minute stretch to pull ahead.
“We miss him. But on the same token and the same note, we’ve still got to come out here and try to fight and try to win,” Murray said. “We’ve still got to hold it down while he’s out. Other people have got to come in and step it up.”
Johnson hit a right-handed runner to give Atlanta an 82-80 lead with 2:19 to play, then added a two-handed runout jam to extend it. The Hawks got two offensive rebounds on a last-minute possession, and Mike Bibby added a pair of free throws for a more comfortable cushion.
Marvin Williams added 16 points, Murray finished with 14 and Bibby scored 13 for Atlanta, which is off to its best start since winning 11 straight games at the outset of the 1997-98 season. The Hawks’ next three games are also on the road.
“These guys tasted a little success last season when we got in the playoffs against the Celtics, and they know what that feeling is like,” said Hawks coach Mike Woodson. “And they want to get back.”
Kevin Durant led the Thunder with 20 points, rookie Russell Westbrook scored 15 and Joe Smith had 14 points and nine rebounds.
Oklahoma City had its biggest lead of the game after Durant capped a 7-0 run with his three-point play to make it 75-68 with 6:45 left, but then went 2-for-9 to finish the game.
“We’ve got to close games out. I think that’s the main thing, and we’ve got to take care of home floor,” Durant said.
Baskets were hard to come by with both teams turning their focus toward defense this year. The Hawks came in with the NBA’s second-best defense, allowing only 86 points per game, while the Thunder’s opponents were averaging only 94.4.
Atlanta won despite shooting only 37 percent (29-for-78), turning Oklahoma City’s 17 turnovers into 19 points. The Thunder didn’t fare much better, converting 39 percent (34-for-87).
“It became a defensive battle on both ends, and we made the plays coming down the stretch that we needed to make,” Woodson said.
Woodson called timeout to stop the Thunder’s big run, and said he simply told his team there was plenty of time left.
“We’re growing as a team, and with the additions of the vets that we have, it gives us that much more confidence,” said Hawks forward Al Horford, who had 12 rebounds. “We didn’t panic when we were down seven in the fourth quarter. We just kept it together and kept defending.”
Murray, who saw extended minutes down the stretch with Josh Smith (sprained left ankle) out, made most of them. He hit a pair of free throws, a fast-break layup and a 3-pointer before tying the game at 77 with a jumper from the right side. Williams followed with a tiebreaking 3-pointer from the right side.
Joe Smith scored the next three points on free throws to tie it at 80, but Johnson answered right away to put Atlanta up for good.
“Our bench is going to have to be huge until we get Josh Smith back. I don’t know when he’s going to be back, but I thought it was a total team effort,” Woodson said.
Without Josh Smith, Atlanta started out big with 6-foot-11 center Zaza Pachulia taking his place in the lineup. That strategy didn’t last long, as Pachulia picked up two fouls in the first 2:40 and went to the bench for the rest of the half.
The Hawks still took advantage of another slow Oklahoma City start to open an early 17-6 lead, but Westbrook scored two quick baskets after coming off the bench to start the Thunder’s comeback.
Earl Watson drove for a layup to give Oklahoma City its first lead in the final 2 minutes of the first half, and the Thunder led 41-38 after scoring the last six points before halftime.
“Last year, we would totally shut down if we were down 15 or 10 points,” Durant said. “This year, we’ve got a group of guys that always picks us up, always brings energy off the bench. That helps us.”